#1ReasonToBe: Women speak to making games in emerging regions | The DeanBeat #1ReasonToBe: Women speak to making games in emerging regions | The DeanBeat
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The #1ReasonToBe panel has had a strong legacy at the Game Developers Conference. It has been dormant for a while, but the session returned at this year’s GDC.

This year, it featured six women from different parts of the gaming world. They talked about why they’re game developers and how that came to pass at the recent online-only GDC.

The panelists included Laia Bee (CEO of Pincer Games and president of the Uruguayan Game Developers Association); Indrani Ganguly (studio head and game designer at Duronto Games); Isabel Vásquez  (video game producer/ CEO at Pink Bear Games); Alexandra Marzuqa Giacaman (software developer / musician and sound designer at AyHungry and Micromoon Bugs); Aevee Bee  (narrative designer at Future Club); and Bahiyya Khan (game designer, writer and filmmaker, independent).

I’ve always enjoyed this panel about empowered women from emerging markets telling their stories about their passion for games. This is a panel that is rich in the history of GDC and the diversity movements that have helped evolve the modern game industry.

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In 2013, the #1ReasonToBe session was initiated by the longtime game developer Brenda Romero and game developer and former columnist Leigh Alexander to give visibility to the work and ambitions of women in the industry.

Three years later, former Vlambeer developer Rami Ismail gave it a new twist by including geographically diverse people — particularly those who have had a hard time getting to GDC or getting onstage at the event. He gave a voice to underrepresented game developers from all over the world, including Lual Malen, a former refugee who is now working on games.

In 2021, Laia Bee, cofounder of Pincer Games and coordinator at the Latam Game Developers Federation, organized the panel in hopes of combining the visions of Romero, Alexander, and Ismail. She focused on women from different parts of the world.

But the GDC decided in 2021 and 2022 to cancel the session because other advocacy and diversity programming was fulfilling the role of the #1ReasonToBe panel. Ismail said he was furious about GDC’s decision to de-fund the panel, which required travel. And interestingly enough, GDC brought it back this year in a session organized and moderated by Bee. It’s worth noting that the session did not have representation from the Israel point of view of the October 7 events and the Gaza war.

Laia Bee

Laia Bee at 2024 #1ReasonToBe panel.

Laia Bee started off noting all of this background to the pane. She lives in Uruguay and is the co-founder of Pincer Games and president of the Uruguayan Game developers association. She is also part of the Game Awards Future class, and she helps coordinate the Latam Video Games Federation.

She noted how Romero and Alexander started it to make women more visible and Ismail picked it up to create a geographically diverse approach to discover the voices of the underrepresented game developers from different parts of the world.

Then GDC asked her to pick it up in 2019. She did an online version of the panel and then it was canceled for a couple of years. The goal is to combine the original vision with women who come from geographically diverse backgrounds from around the world.

“I probably sent the most hostile GDC talk submission ever for this edition, and some agitation had to happen in social media… but , GDC listened, and here we are again,” Laia Bee said. “And perhaps you’re asking yourself… why is this important? Why listen to different backgrounds and stories from countries I’m not familiar with culturally?”

She noted that “when we see the news that 20,000 thousand people are being slaughtered at war, it is very very difficult to think beyond a number, who are they, what do they like? What where they dreams for the future? …. When we read about the thousands of layoffs, it is challenging to think about their lives, their families and how will they make it while companies get richer and richer.”

Laia Bee said the panel matters “because the industry is about people, video games exist and move us, because there are real human stories and passion put into every title we love.”

And she said, “And more, because the future is female, women sustain the economy, women raise children, women hold the hope for politics and a more compassionate world. Yet we still in 2024, we don’t listen to them enough.”

In an email to GamesBeat, Laia Bee said, “The Sweet Baby harassment case happened days before GDC, and during the event, my colleague from the Future Class Dr. Rachel Kowert showed me a photo with her name and others with red strings on a wall, and they knew that they where going to be at GDC, so special security measures had to be taken.”

She said that was scary and this got her thinking that things have not gotten any better since Gamergate.

“And why #1reasontobe continues to be important and necessary. As we are seeing worldwide the rights we gain are not to be taken for granted, these rights must be defended, and so do these kinds of unique spaces like #1reasontobe. We need to keep on defending and resisting.”

Indrani Ganguly

Indrani Ganguly from India.

Ganguly describes herself as a queer game designer, educator, community builder, and games marketer based in Mumbai, India. She has worked with a variety of tabletop and video games companies to build rich, engaging narratives: both in-game and out.

Ganguly is the co-founder of Desis & Dragons, India’s largest tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) community of players and game designers, and a member of the PoC Programming Committee, home to the first games industry mixer designed to support the career advancement of PoC gaming professionals in the tabletop industry.

In 2022, Ganguly was inducted into The Game Awards Future Class cohort, receiving global acclaim. Ganguly opened the session with her talk about breaking into gaming.

“I was consumed by the idea of making games,” Ganguly said, but she recognized that she needed to become a better artist. She kept playing all the games she could get her hands on and kept engaging in game development. She got some attention on social media and decided to use that to build a community of local game builders. With that success on social, she was able to crowdfund a trip for herself to the Gen Con, the big tabletop game show in Indiana.

Her followers believed that what she was doing was worth the investment and that her stories were worth sharing. At Gen Con, she met the right folks and talked up her own skills as well as those who she worked with in India. That trip, and her presence at GDC in San Francisco, made her feel like she could succeed as a game developer.

It was sad that her peers in India could not come, and she noted that it costs $2,449 to buy a pass to the GDC, and that the median salary in India is about 29,000 rupees, or $352 per year.

“I will let you do the math,” she said.

Still, she said it is a “miracle that I play games.” In her games, Ganguly said she wants to be part of the community of gaming.

“I want to tell our stories,” she said.

Isabel Vásquez

Isabel Vásquez is CEO of Pink Bear Games

Vásquez is a video game producer and CEO of Pink Bear Games. She opened her talk by saying she is 42 years old, and she started making games at the age of 34.

When she was a child, she wanted to make games. But the dream got away from her. She got a degree in business administration and became a sales manager. At the time, her husband was looking for an artist to partner with on a game project. She decided to give it a try, and they collaborated on their first game studio. They worked on VR games and a mobile game and made their way to Gamescom.

She later got divorced and moved to a new city. It was tough during the pandemic, but she decided to restructure the studio and make a game focused on the issue of child abuse. She learned about sexual abuse in the tourism business. The WHO reports that one in four girls and one in six boys suffers from child sexual abuse. With the held of a writer, her team worked on a game.

“I realized the importance of prevention and education,” she said. “Abuse is a difficult topic. And in children it’s even more painful. Our society was trying to turn a blind eye to it in our country.”

Pink Bear Games is focused on making social impact games, and it is working on Patito, a game with a cute chick as a character and a message around stopping child sexual abuse and helping children communicate about the abuse when it happens. The team received a grant from Unity for Humanity to finish the game, and it is now in its final stretch.

Bahiyya Khan

Bahiyya Khan is from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Khan hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. She said she wasn’t supposed to be on the panel, but her friend couldn’t make it and she stepped in at the last minute. She is a game designer, writer and filmmaker.

She said she was proud to attend GDC and be part of a community of smart people.

“I always leave feeling better and hopeful,” she said.

When asked to do the panel, she said she wasn’t sure she could do it justice since she feels a lot of hate and anger. In the last few months, she has been troubled by the mass layoffs and the lack of job security in the industry.

“Trying to get a job in video games — it’s pretty much nonexistent right now,” she said.

And she noted that back in places like the Congo she is watching genocide happen. She thought that most people are suffering from a kind of insanity, watching the world leaders making decisions that are destroying the lives of millions of people.

She noted that months have passed since the conflict in Israel started on October 7 and the war in Gaza is proceeding.

“It seems every conversation that I’ve been having seems to be about how awful the state of the game industry is and people are dying. It makes me want to scream and run away because nothing feels good,” Khan said.

She said she wasn’t sure if you could ever find a stable job in the game industry, and didn’t know whether it was the most important thing about life anymore. She closed by saying “Free Palestine! Free Congo.” She received cheers from the crowd.

Aevee Bee

Aevee Bee at #1ReasonToBe panel.

Bee said she has made several video games, mostly for free. She was happy to be on stage with “these other amazing women” and she was overwhelmed at being at GDC.

“Being a woman in games is not something I’ve ever thought I get to be. But having gotten here, I have to keep going. And I’ll be honest with you, people have mentioned the past four years have [been hard],” she said. “Even on a good day, it’s hard to feel good about the future of this industry. And on the bad days, it’s hard to feel good about the future of this planet.”

Despite that, she said she has this “ongoing, unshakable desire to keep making games, no matter how painful the process is.”

When asked to be on the panel, she asked why she makes art. She said she made a game about a “polyamorous love transcendent space opera.”

She said it was pretty weird, but fighting the rules of commerce is something she really likes doing.

“The main reason that we play games is we want to experience something that’s like nothing out there,” she said. This obsession makes people good artists and it’s what makes their work important. She said women artists have to balance reactionary pushback, community needs and publisher demands.

“It’s an impossible dance that demands the type of perfection and purity force that is completely at odds with our lives and experiences,” she said. “Things are hard now. It’s ruthless and competitive. And no one wants to hear our stories.”

That made Bee rebel and think that we have to make games for a kind of lie, something safe.

“I’m spending less time making games for freaks like me, and more time convincing people to not be afraid,” she said.

She wanted to share herself through her art, but she said she is getting angrier and angrier and more hurt, and there is no reason to be optimistic.

“We’re living in an unending pandemic haze. I’ve seen my beautiful queer communities fractured and hurt with indescribable loss in the industry,” Bee said. “The world is presenting us with comical horror on a daily basis. And it’s now the time for things to suck the absolute most that they ever sucked…. I want to scream. I don’t want to be comforted when I feel bad. I want to make other people feel awful.”

Out of that feeling, Bee said she wants to make a game for weird people.

Aevee Bee’s #1ReasonToBe slide.

“I want to make the game for the weirdos that really speaks to their heart and soul even if that means that not everyone’s going to like it,” Bee said.

Bee said we’ve been told to accept reality and move on.

“But that’s bullshit. I tell you that this is wrong. We’re doing the wrong thing. We need to get weirder when things are tough, not more normal. Strike for niche appeal over mass appeal. Because things are more competitive than ever. I know this is about to be my one reason to be but I hate talking about myself so much that I decided to turn it all on you. And because my reason to be here is because of all of you, because of the cool games that you are making. I want to play them.”

Bee said, “I want to make them, and I want to get inspired by your own games. I think you should make more games for freaks. A lot of us are indies making niche games with niche appeal. You have to be good at everything, and you’ll just get buried under a wave of games that are pretty good at everything.”

She said the real world is flawed and she wants to see jagged edges. If she doesn’t, “I feel like it’s because you’re holding out on me. And I want to see that part of you that shows you’re scared. You’re ugliness to bitterness in your anger, because I think it’s what makes you beautiful.”

Alexandra Marzuqa Giacaman

Alexandra Marzuqa Giacaman

Marzuqa Gaicaman is a professional musician, sound designer and full stack developer based in Chile.

She is the co-organizer of Women Game Jam Chile and a mentor for Global Game Jam and Women Game Jam Chile. She’s also Palestinian and is passionate about video games. She is a lead musician and sound designer for Micromoon Bugs, an indie team that makes games for both mobile and the PC.

She is also a Unity Programmer (C#) and is learning Unreal Engine 5 with C++. And she is currently working as a software developer at AyHungry. Her mission is to raise awareness about women working, trying to enter into and fit in within the IT and video game industries.

“The reason I studied music in the first place was because music and makes life more variable, fun, colorful,” she said. “It gives you an identity, and you can express yourself through it.”

She added, “Video games for me as a child were an escape.”

At some point, she started making games for fun. One of her first games was about raising consciousness about the environment.

“As a woman in the fields of art and music, I have overcome many challenges. One of them being to know my self worth and the value that I have as a person,” she said.

She felt that she didn’t fit in and there was a place for her in the industry.

“And I couldn’t be more wrong,” she said. “I can tell you you’re already making a difference by being here.”

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